Switching To Arch Linux – Part 1

Arch Linux LogoIt’s been a long time, but I finally have an adventure in Linux to report on.

The Story So Far

It’s kinda hard to recall my Linux path nowadays, mostly because in the old days it wasn’t feasable to tie up a phone line to download an OS. The distros were bought in box form, and usually at clearance save RedHat and SUSE. Even as broadband caught up, I bought SUSE 9.3 in a box at the store just for the manual and a limited-time support line.

  • Red Hat Linux 5 — unusable due to the state of ATI and winmodem support at the time.
  • Corel Linux — unusable thanks to its complete ignorance of broadband
  • Mandrake 8.1 — usable, but not really “You don’t need Windows anymore,” material.
  • Turbolinux 6.0 — would not install, and I forget why.
  • SUSE 9.3 — First usable Linux install that started tearing me away from Windows. Tcicked me off during 10.x though with a bug in updates IIRC. Tried to go back one time, but it ticked me off again by trying to install fonts and X11 when I was trying to do a console-only setup.
  • Ubuntu 6.06 — Writing that just made me realize how long I’ve been using Ubuntu and what’s making me switch right now.

Party Pooper

So, what pooped the party? I decided to jump in on the alpha release of Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwahl. I didn’t mind the bugs introduced so much as the bugs that stayed — both ones marked as Won’t Fix – Too Late (like the min/max/close buttons in Unity) and bugs that somehow persisted past final release but were resolved with a re-install (like Ubuntu One always crashing). This is a total departure from 6.06. Noting the .06 part made me realize that Ubuntu, at one time, would hold back a release to stabalize things. Natty Narwahl should have been one of those releases.

Enter Arch

After seeing the state of affairs for Ubuntu, I decided to give Arch Linux a try. Arch intrigued me with the rolling release philosophy, meaning there were no “point” releases — Arch was Arch. It also intrigued me with its minimalist approach, meaning I could build my system the way I wanted it, with only the things I wanted it to have.

I first used Arch to test out Gnome 3, to see if it was any better than Unity. It wasn’t. Both interfaces’ method of searching through programs annoyed me outside of typing out the name of the application. Unity’s Dash was better than Gnome’s Favorites, but I hated Dash’s lenses. Gnome 3 was also clearly less customizable (and ugly) compared to Unity.

A Minor Detour

When Ubuntu finally had me at the end of my rope, I decided to switch to Arch. However, by the time I did Arch had officially dumped Gnome 2 for Gnome 3, completely undermining my plan to use Gnome 2 with Mint Menu. I begrudingly gave Gnome 3 another shot, but I just couldn’t take it. I was despising Gnome 3 more and more.

A Challenger Appears

So I started digging to find another Linux distro to try out. That’s when I discovered Linux Mint Debian Edition. For the unaware, Linux Mint (non-DE) is a distro based off of Ubuntu. But clearly someone has a shorter fuse than I do as LMDE was started on Sept 7 2010. LMDE is another rolling-release distribution (being based on debian-testing). For the most part it works really well, but I had an accumulation of bugs that got annoying.

  • Out-Of-Date LiveCD — The point-release origins shine through. Instead of reaching out to the internet for the latest packages, the installer uses a local cache of packages. The LiveCD is remastered once but every few months, leaving a lot of packages out of date.
  • NFS Not Mounting At Boot — For some reason my NFS mount didn’t work at boot time but would work from a console immediately after with a mount -a. Ending up sticking that command in rc.local and things worked from there.
  • eth0 renamed eth1 — Why? (You can see this specifically during the boot process.)
  • Reboot Doesn’t Reboot — Completely shutting down all processes and then starting again sure is handy and might be enough to solve some things, but sometime you need an actual reboot. There was no way I could find to accomplish this outside of reboot -f, which actually forces a physical reboot to occur before all processes are properly terminated.
  • Flash Trashes Video Performance — I don’t know how or why, but video plays just fine until you use Flash to view a video on the Internet. Then video performance gets wonky and into an endless resync cycle.

One Last Chance

I went back to Ubuntu, this time forgoing Unity and running straight-up Gnome 2. That’s when I discovered some of my persistent bugs had simply gone away, which only ended up ticking me off. If I subject myself to Alpha-state software, I expect things to be running at final release time the same way they would if I had skipped Alpha and just installed the final release.

I had to make a few changes as well. Talika was now crashing, but DockBarX was a suitable replacement if not a superior solution.

Somehow, I discovered LXDE. I decided to see if Ubuntu officially supported it, and lo and behold it does. Installed the files, logged out and back in. No effects because now we’re using openbox instead of compiz. Issued compiz –replace, but no window decorations because I forgot about gtk-window-decorator. Figured I would try ditching GNOME as much as possible and go with emerald, and that’s when I discovered that the official Ubuntu repos carried an out-of-date emerald that segfaults.

While the situation was easily rectified with a PPA, I had had it. There’s really no excuse for that — either carry an up-to-date or stable version of a package, or don’t carry it at all.